July 14, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Reading I (Isaiah 55:10-11) Reading II (Romans 8:18-23)
Gospel (St. Matthew 13:1-23)
In the second reading today from Saint Paul's Letter to the Romans, Saint Paul tells us that all creation is groaning and it all has been made subject to futility. Then he goes on to tell us that even we ourselves, who have the firstfruits, groan as we await the redemption of our bodies. We need to ask ourselves, then, how this applies to each one of us. What does it mean that creation has been made subject to futility? And what does it mean, even beyond that, to suggest that even though we have the firstfruits - we have Jesus Christ and we have redemption - that we groan as we await the redemption of our bodies?
Creation, Saint Paul says, is made subject to futility as it groans awaiting the revelation of the sons of God. And so, creation is waiting to be able to be set free from its futility. I do not think it requires any kind of genius to be able to look around and see the futility of the way most people live their lives today. If we think about how people are spending hours and hours and hours in front of the Internet or in front of the TV or doing useless things, you need to ask yourself, "Where is it all leading? Where is this getting people?" Even if we look just at the most basic level, when we die, the body corrupts. Anything in this world is corruptible. Everything in this world is corruptible. Even if you go to the store and you put things in your refrigerator, it does not take long for it to start breaking down and it corrupts. We can have the fanciest, nicest things, and we can even try to rust-proof our cars or whatever it is that we try to do, but all that does is extend it a little bit. It all corrupts. All of it is futile. It is sort of like what Qoheleth said in the Book of Ecclesiastes: "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!" It is all passing away.
But the amazing thing is that even we, who have the fisrtfruits, even we, who share in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, who know the truth, even we put so much emphasis on all these corruptible and futile things, and we put so little emphasis on what is everlasting. The reason, I think, is because we can see the things that are corruptible. The sad thing is that we can also see they are corrupting. But we can see them and we can reach out and touch them. The things that are incorruptible, those things we cannot see or touch. And because we are sensible people, it is only the things we can receive through the senses that tend to be the most important to us.
Is this not, in essence, the same thing Jesus was talking about in the Gospel reading when the disciples asked why He spoke to the people only in parables? The whole thing for us is like a parable. We see but we do not understand. We hear but we do not listen, because when it comes to the incorruptible, we cannot get a grasp on it even though we know in our minds, just like the people who heard what Jesus was preaching. They knew what the truth was: These were Jewish people; they had heard the truth preached to them; they had Moses; they had the law; they had all the things that had been taught to the Jewish people for centuries at that point - but they did not want to hear the truth. They had closed their eyes and they had shut their ears and they did not want to hear the truth so Jesus spoke to them in parables. And it sounds like He was being rather judgmental and, even, we might say, rather uncharitable and mean. When they asked Him, "Why do you preach to them like this - only in parables?" He said, "If I preach to them in a different way, they might open their eyes or they might listen, and then I would heal them and they would be saved." And we ask, "Well, wouldn't God want them to be saved? Wouldn't the Lord want them to open their eyes and their ears? Wouldn't He want them to hear and to see? Wouldn't He want them to be healed?" The answer is "yes" - of course He wants them to hear and to see and to be healed. The question is not whether or not God wants that; the question is whether or not we want it. That is where our problem comes in.
We have heard many times about the need to make changes in our lives - and how often have we actually done it? It has been made blatantly clear to us. But the fact is that most of us really do not want it. We have closed our eyes and we have shut our ears. We have heard the Gospel preached from the time we were little children - or if we have converted as adults, we have heard the Gospel preached every week and even every day from the time of our conversion. And still, we need to look at our own lives and realize that, for the most part, where we put our emphasis is on what is futile and what is corruptible; at which point, we need to ask, "How badly do we want the truth?" We recognize day after day that we groan; we groan under the weight of our own futility, under the weight of our own choices where we have chosen the things that are corruptible instead of the things that are incorruptible. We have chosen the things that are futile instead of the things that are really worthwhile, and we have tried to find our joy and our happiness in things that are passing away. They have no lasting joy; they are going to rot. But the things that can give us lasting joy, for whatever reason, those things we tend to put very little value on. We do not tend to give it the time and the effort that we do the things that are passing.
So where is our emphasis? Is this life not just like one big parable, where we see but we do not grasp, we hear but we do not listen? The Lord is trying to tell us over and over again by our daily existence and by the lived-out reality of our lives that this is all passing away; but we close our eyes and we do not want to see it, we shut our ears and we do not want to hear it. We go out and we try to get bigger and better things and more of the stuff, because maybe, just maybe, something is actually going to make us happy. It is all passing away. Every bit of it is going to corrupt; it is all futile.
We need to ask ourselves, if we, like the disciples of Jesus Christ, are blessed because of what our eyes have seen and what our ears have heard, how are we responding? Even the disciples did not understand. Jesus had to take them aside and explain the parables to them because they did not get it either. Once they understood, they changed their lives; but they did not understand until Pentecost. They lived with Jesus every day for three years, and He preached the Gospel every day to them for three years, and they did not understand. So what each one of us needs to do is to pray and ask the Lord to convict us in the depths of our heart and ask Him to pour out His Holy Spirit upon us, as He did upon the apostles, so that we too will change our lives.
That is where we come to the real heart of the matter: Do we want to change our lives? The problem, which I must say I find to be the most frustrating and difficult of all, is that good people really do not want to be saints. Good people really do not want to live the Gospel. Good people really do not want to change their lives and dedicate themselves entirely to Jesus Christ. We have this attitude where, as long as we are not committing mortal sin, that is good enough. It is not good enough. While it may be good enough to be able to eke into Heaven, Our Lord did not ask us to see if we could find the lowest place. He did not ask us to aim for the lowest common denominator. He did not ask us to see if we could do the very least amount possible.
Remember the man who buried his thousand silver pieces in the ground and just simply gave them back. He was condemned for what he did. The Lord wants us to take what He has given and He wants us to bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold, as He talks about. In the prophet Isaiah, the Lord says, "My Word will not return to Me void, but it will do the work for which I have sent it." It will achieve the end, the purpose, for which God intended. And it will achieve that end in each one of us. But the difference is that when you plant a seed in the ground, natural law requires that it is going to germinate and begin to grow. It will die off if it does not have enough water or if it gets choked off by the thorns or if it gets eaten by the birds. But if it is cared for and it is in good soil, it is going to grow and it is going to produce the fruit. The difference is that, with us, we have a free will, which that seed which is planted in the ground does not have.
And so, the choice is ours. How badly do we want it? The Lord has planted His Word within each one of us. We have heard, but have we listened and understood? We have seen, but have we really opened our eyes to recognize? Do we really want to be that good soil? Do we want the Word of God, planted within each one of us, to be void? Or do we want to be able to bear fruit to achieve the end for which God sent it? Imagine standing before Our Lord on the Day of Judgment and saying to Him, "Oh, Lord, here is the Word that You planted within my heart. I heard it and now I am bringing it back to You." It is void. The Lord said that His Word will not return to Him void. If we have not done anything with it, we are not going to be going to Him because we are going to be empty. We will have nothing to offer to Him, and we are going to be thrown away like the refuse in the fire. We need to bear fruit. It is the only way. His Word is not going to return void; so the only way that we, into whom this Word has been planted, are going to be able to go to Heaven - to the part which is incorruptible, to the part which is not subject to futility - if that is the part that we choose, then we need to do something with it now so that we are not going to be returning void; but rather, we are going to bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold. That is the fruit that will last. That is the fruit that Jesus commanded that His disciples go out and bear - "great fruit" is what He told us. And He required it of us.
That choice is ours. The kind of seed-ground that Word is planted in is entirely up to us. Are we anxious about the things of the world, the things that are futile and corruptible, so that the Word springs up for a moment because we see the truth and we rejoice in it, but then we get caught up in the things out there and it withers and dies? Are we the seed-ground that is trying to grow and produce fruit, but we have got ourselves so hooked into all the weeds and all the thorns and all the things that are going to choke off the Word, and we do not really want to get rid of those so they have greater priority in our lives than the Word of God? Jesus is the Word of God, and nothing should have greater priority. It is the greatest of all the commandments: to love God first with our whole heart and soul and strength. The choice is ours. We are the ones who decide what kind of ground that is. We are the only ones who make that choice. The seed has been planted and we need to make the choice. Are we going to subject ourselves to the futility and the corruption? Or are we going to choose incorruption? Are we going to choose what is everlasting and immortal? We alone can make that choice. The Word of God will not return to Him void, but only those who will bear fruit - thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.